By Laurie Coker
Cate Blanchett stars as Bernadette Fox in Richard Linklater’s latest foray in film, Where’d you go, Bernadette? Far removed from the high school hallways of Dazed and Confused, Linklater takes on the complex psyche of a woman, whose genius for design and architecture pushes hers close to the edge of crazy where she teeters precariously under the weight of oppressive social anxiety. Linklater and co-screenwriters, Holly Gent Palmo and Vince Palmo Jr. create a muddled mess of a tale which Blanchette and co-stars, including Billy Cudrup and newcomer Emma Nelson, manage to elevate to pleasingly entertaining.
Adapted from the best-selling novel by Marie Semple, Where’d you go, Bernadette? revolves around an agoraphobic architect whose virtual assistance manages her life and whose husband (Cudrup) and daughter (Nelson) adore her and she loves them. The dismal milieu of Seattle rain offers an appropriate backdrop to Bernadette’s dramatically comical life. A savant of design and vision, she suffers silently during sleepless nights and begrudgingly goes through the motions of motherhood and daily routine. She dotes on her daughter, Bee, and agrees to take a family vacation to Antarctica – an obligation that causeS her emotional grief.
Money oozes from the neighborhood where they live and their neighbor, Audrey (Kristen Wiig) loathes Bernadette and the dilapidated church in which the family resides. The disdain and distrust are palpable when Audrey complains about the overrun landscaping and Bernadette seethes sarcasm – knowingly removing vines that hold the hillside at bay. There is dark comedy in their relationship and Wiig and Blanchet wear it well. It’s Nelson’s fresh face and a heartbreaking backstory that hold the most interest. The story moves from mundane to predictable, but the actors keep viewers in the game.
Cudrup is perhaps one of the most underrated actors of his generation and in this, he is perfect – love, frustration, and embarrassment flow naturally from his eyes. His interactions with Blanchet and Nelson melt the heart and bring together Linklater’s flimsy film. Watching this impressive cast does far more to entertain than does the story. Editing might be to blame since much of the tale seems disjointed – lacking some key aspects.
Oscar may or may not come knocking for Bernadette. Blanchett delivers a vivid performance – one that anyone who has ever experienced anxiety and panic attacks will recognize. More drama than comedy, Where’d you go, Bernadette? offers up horrible and hopeful views mental health, genius, love, family and coping. It earns a C+/B- in the grade book. The cast deserves higher.